Justice is intersectional. It crosses the boundaries we make: gender, class and race. This means injustice is intersectional too. 

That’s why as a cisgender Black woman and a journalist at MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, I’m thinking about last week’s passage of two bills in the state House; one that targets drag shows and the other that bans gender-affirming care for youths. 

I know what being marginalized feels like. I know what it means. That helps make me empathetic. Yet sometimes, when you’re dealing with your own issues, you can forget the importance of  what our namesake Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., so beautifully called the “inescapable network of mutuality.” 

Or as I heard growing up: If they came for them, they’ll be coming for you next

On Friday, there was a rally in front of the OutMemphis community center on Cooper Street against all the anti-LGBTQ+ action the Republican-controlled legislature seems to relish. People were there, in anger, in action, in shock. Telling their stories, thinking about what it all meant. 

“I think it’s important to be here because, unfortunately, we can’t let these things creep in,” said Fábio Mariano, 30. “There has been a lot of progress that so many people have fought for during so many years. And after so much advance, we can’t just let these things slide in and not be out here and disappoint people who have been before us fighting for so much…”

Two candid photos of two people standing together.
Bella DuBalle (left frame on right) and Fábio Mariano (right frame on right) stand for portraits at the rally. Photos by Andrea Morales for MLK50

Memphis drag queen Bella DuBalle pointed out that the Stonewall Riots happened 54 years ago and were about what people were wearing. “And here we are, all this time later, still fighting over simple identities.

“As a full-time drag performer, not only does it threaten my livelihood, I’m worried about all of my trans siblings that are just presenting their authentic selves in the streets that people don’t understand.”

She pointed out that her first experience with drag came from watching Bugs Bunny cartoons. “The fact that they don’t understand how to explain drag to children — you don’t have to. They originated it. They are the creators of playing dress up. We just never quit.”

Black trans elder LaCretia LaMour Springer grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi, loved by her mother, rejected by her father. She works as a receptionist for We Care Tennessee

A Black woman smiling
LaCretia LaMour Springer stands for a portrait outside of OutMemphis following the rally. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

“We are here, and we’re here to stay,” she said. “But the future of trans people will be blighted if we don’t stand up to some type of policy and reject some of these policies and issues that’s going on.

Somebody got to do something. We are human beings, baby. And we have a life to live. 

“I’ve lived 75 years being me. For us, as trans people, we got to really get out on the ground, and we have to knock on doors. And we have to knock on offices or go and sit until we are seen. Being heard is one thing, but actually seeing what they hear, that’s the most powerful thing. Action is what we need. We don’t need any more scrutinization. We don’t need any more criticism. Let us live. We’re not bothering anybody.”

I, you, we need to listen to people like Springer; we need to let them lead this fight. But we can’t let them fight alone. We can’t be silent. 

On Saturday night, I watched Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union-Wade win the President’s Award at the 2023 NAACP Image Awards for their advocacy of LGBTQ+ rights. They’re raising a trans daughter named Zaya. In his acceptance speech, Dwyane Wade paid a heartfelt tribute to her courage. He was roundly applauded. 

Then Union-Wade spoke. “Let’s just name a couple of hard truths,” she said. “First, the intersection of Black rights and the rights of the LGBTQIA, trans and gender nonconforming people continues to be rough — that’s a huge understatement.

“And second, Black trans people are being targeted, terrorized and hunted in this country. Every day, everywhere. And there’s rarely a whisper about it.”

The audience’s response to her speech, delivered with fire and unflinching directness, seemed more muted. Maybe people were startled by her righteous anger compared to her husband’s coolness and warmth. 

But in truth, Union-Wade was asking for something from all of us that seems more difficult: to love fully and unconditionally, to get caught in that network of mutuality, to see in drag “a single garment of destiny.” 

“We are hopeful that we may witness a real shift in the fight for justice: the moment the movement makes room for everyone — everyone,” she said.

Because that’s what justice looks like. 

Our reporter Brittany Brown has been on the ground chronicling the protests and the responses to the killing of Tyre Nichols. So, it makes sense that she’s been pulled in on discussions about criminal justice. 

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On Feb. 23, she moderated a terrific panel at Rhodes College around “Reimagining Safety,” a documentary by Matthew Soloman that explores the premise that more police and more prisons make us safer. 

Don’t worry if you missed that: You can watch Brittany on the Laura Flanders Show, speaking about MLK50’s coverage of the Nichols case and the broader issue of police violence. 

Adrienne Johnson Martin is executive editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at adrienne.martin@mlk50.com

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